When I ask people what they like best about this blog, they almost always say the Criticwire Survey. I don’t blame them: it’s my favorite part of the site, too. I look forward to seeing what our contributors come up with every week — and I love hearing from readers that it’s become a bit of a Monday morning ritual, the piece they look forward to reading to kick off their day. That’s fantastic. More than anything else about Criticwire, that’s what I’m most thankful for this year (aaaaaand there’s your obligatory and highly tenuous connection to Thanksgiving).
There’s really only one part about the survey that isn’t fantastic: the fact that I can’t contribute. I mean, I guess technically I could; it’s my blog, after all. But when I did the very first Survey back in March, it felt a little weird to ask people a question and then to answer it as well, as if I was suggesting there was a “correct” response, and mine was it. I decided to remain a silent curator rather than an active participant.
But let’s be honest: remaining silent is not something I am particularly good at. When my good friend and former college roommate Pete Thomas suggested the idea of a special blog post in which I answered every single Criticwire Survey all at once, I immediately liked the idea. And then I immediately stole it for the piece you’re about to read.
Here now are my responses to all our survey questions to date in chronological order. If you missed any of them the first time around, you’ll also find links back to the original pieces. And, sincerely, thanks for reading what we’ve been doing here at Criticwire so far. Have a great holiday.
Matt Answers Every Criticwire Survey Question
“I’ll give you two recent examples I liked a lot: ‘The Poochie Legacy,’ a piece examining ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and a strange trend I observed in recent sequels, and this piece for The A.V. Club on the underrated Stallone film ‘Demolition Man.'”
“Though I’ve caught up with a lot of my worst blindspots in recent years, I’ve still got more than I’d care to admit left to see. Number one on that list is Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story,’ routinely ranked amongst the greatest films of the world (it ranked third on the 2012 Sight & Sound list), and yet still unseen by me. I have no excuse either. I’ve seen other Ozu films and loved them. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, other than an extra day off every week to watch movies for pleasure instead of work.”
“‘An American Werewolf in London‘ remains scary no matter how many times you watch it. The horror comes not just from the shocks, but from dread; the gruesome supernatural imagery and the nagging subtext that no matter what we do on this earth we’re all doomed to a sad end. Rather than just tossing a bunch of stock teenager types on the screen as lambs to the slaughter, the guys in ‘American Werewolf’ feel like real people — which makes their fates that much more depressing.”
April 16: The Eisner Awards — the comic book industry’s equivalent of the Oscars — used to give out an award for “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.” So who in the world of film criticism is a talent deserving of wider recognition? What critic that you love doesn’t get the acclaim and attention they deserve?
“Working on this blog, I read film critics who are deserving of wider acclaim every single day. But I’ll give you one name out of the dozens that jump to mind: David Ehrlich, of many different websites including Movies.com and the Operation Kino podcast. He’s worth reading (and listening to) regardless of the topic — and even when I disagree with his take his analysis is always smart and his perspective is always interesting.”
“With my buddy Chris Moreno, I’ve recorded a few ‘dream’ commentary tracks — like this one for one of my all-time favorite movies, ‘Gymkata.’ Still, I would relish the opportunity to share some of my theories about the filmography of Arnold Schwarzenegger on an authorized commentary of one of his movies; preferably something like ‘True Lies‘ or ‘The 6th Day,’ which are particularly rich in terms of the themes he repeatedly returns to about family, violence, and secret lives.”
April 30: You’ve been contacted by Sight & Sound. They want you to look at the 2002 list, remove the least worthy film, and replace it with the most worthy film that’s not mentioned. What do you pick and why?
“Lovely as it is, I would strike ‘Singing in the Rain” from the top ten and replace it with Jacques Tati’s ‘Playtime,’ which came in second on my own (unofficial) ballot when ScreenCrush asked Jordan Hoffman and I to create our own all-time top ten lists. ‘Playtime’ is simply a masterpiece with an astonishing level of formal brilliance in the realms of sound, editing, and composition.”
“I tend to like when everyone — critic and filmmaker alike — lets their work speak for itself. Of course, when that happens there’s not much to write about on this blog, so let me rephrase: I like when people get really, really mad and scream and yell at each other.”
“‘Pink Flamingos.’ Not only was it one of the core films from the rise of midnight movies in the 1970s, but it has so many of the qualities that define that cult, late night aesthetic: a strong, personal directorial voice; weak, weird production values; a dash of camp; a ton of great dialogue, and plenty of super edgy content. Plus, I can’t even imagine watching it at any time of day except midnight.”
“The interesting thing about the responses to this survey were how many people thought of the phrase ‘summer movie’ as a pejorative — and they picked ‘Independence Day’ not because it was the ‘best’ summer movie, but the one that was most emblematic, in good ways and bad, of that descriptor. I’d think of it a bit more optimistically: a summer movie is calculated, yes, but also fun, exciting, and romantic when done right. That’s why my choice would be ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ popcorn cinema at its very best. Bonus: it was actually released in the summer, on June 12, 1981.”
“William Castle built his entire career out of marketing gimmicks. If he was alive today, he’d swear he’d died (again) and gone to heaven. 3-D on every movie? IMAX? 48 frames per second? 3-D IMAX 48 frames per second? He would have lost his mind.”
“I wouldn’t want to see it now, but if Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Robert De Niro had been up for it back in 1977, I totally would have watched a “Taxi Driver” prequel about Travis Bickle’s time in Vietnam.”
“Technically it’s not an art house movie, but 14-years-old was right around the age I saw — and had my mind blown by — ‘Citizen Kane‘ for the first time. Granted, there aren’t many younger characters to identify with. But the film is filled with youthful energy; only a guy as bold and free as 25-year-old Orson Welles would have dared such experimentation. When I was that age, ‘Citizen Kane’ opened my eyes to cinema’s possibilities. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t do the same for any other budding cinephile.”
June 18: What is Pixar’s best movie?
“I’m tempted to say ‘All of them except the ‘Cars’ films’ (which aren’t really that bad, honestly — and the second one is so friggin’ weird it’s kind of amazing). But my favorite Pixar movie taught me that if everyone is special then no one is — so I’ll give ‘The Incredibles‘ the nod over ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Up’ (whose opening sequence is perhaps the single greatest thing the company has produced).”
“Though they’ve only made four films as directors — and they’ve had their names attached (as writers) to some schlock — I’d go with Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Working in ignominious genres, weaving in influences from video games and commercials, their films burst with a level of visual inventiveness that few of their peers can approach, and bubble with subtext that most viewers miss. They’ve yet to produce a real bonafide hit (this year’s ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ sadly fizzled) and they’ve been associated with some real turds (‘Jonah Hex’ anyone?), but I hope they get to keep making movies without compromising their unique vision.”
“‘Ghostbusters‘ and ‘Spaceballs,’ if only because they’re the two movies I watched obsessively as a child, and continued watching obsessively into my teen years and adulthood. The first ‘Naked Gun’ might give them a run for their money — I’ve probably seen it more times in, say, the last fifteen years than either of the other two. But ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Spaceballs’ benefit from that head start.”
“I didn’t really like ‘Anchorman‘ the first time I saw it. I laughed, but not a lot. I didn’t ‘get it.’ But then I found myself, even after just one not-entirely-enjoyed viewing, thinking about it and quoting it. Buddies of mine in school started quoting it too. We watched it and rewatched it, and now I know almost every line and consider it one of the best movie comedies of the last twenty-five years. I’m kind of relieved the review I wrote of the film when it first came out has vanished from the web.”
“I’ve already written about the first one that comes to mind — discovering ‘Army of Darkness‘ at midnight with a rowdy college campus crowd — so here’s another: seeing ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ in the theater with my dad and best friend. I was 10 years old and it was the first R-rated movie I was allowed to see. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life to date. I remember being a little scared at first, and jumping out of my seat when the Terminator’s robotic foot suddenly appears and crushes a human skull, but before too long I was whooping and cheering with delight. I have a pretty strange and selective memory; I can’t remember what I ate for lunch a few hours ago, but I can vividly recall the details of seeing ‘T2’ for the first time: where in the theater we sat, how I bounced in my seat with excitement. It made a huge impact.”
“‘Insomnia,’ he typed as he glanced at the clock. It read ‘2:50 AM.’ He looked back down and kept typing.”
“As much as I love them, I could easily see ‘Toy Story‘ continuing on without Tom Hanks’ Woody and Tim Allen’s Buzz. ‘Toy Story 3’ was delightful (when it wasn’t brutally traumatizing) but it also sort of recycled a lot of the same ideas as ‘Toy Story 2.’ There are plenty of toys out there and a lot of potential for their adventures, neuroses, and foibles. I’d happily watch a ‘Toy Story 4’ starring the old gang — but I wouldn’t be opposed to one without them either.”
“I’ve always been a huge fan of ‘Across 110th Street‘ — a brutal and brilliantly even-handed crime film from the 1970s about the violent repercussions of a mob robbery. It was directed by Barry Shear, a journeyman filmmaker who spent most of his career grinding out made-for-TV movies (his biggest claim to fame: directing the pilot of ‘Starsky and Hutch’). Shear’s career was long but largely unremarkable, except for ‘Across 110th Street’ and a strange hippie exploitation picture I also love called ‘Wild in the Streets.’ But if you’ve got to be known for two things, those are two fairly awesome things to be known for.”
“For me, it would have been a coin flip between ‘Looper’ and ‘Skyfall.’ And I wound up enjoying both quite a bit.”
“There were a lot of great movies released before September this year, and I hope all of them are remembered come top ten and year-end poll time. I’ll simply go by which film from that time frame currently ranks highest on my own running list of the best of the year and say ‘The Cabin in the Woods.'”
September 10: What is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film?
“I rewatched them all in the weeks leading up to ‘The Master.’ And until I see ‘The Master’ a second time, I say it’s ‘Boogie Nights.’ But I could definitely change my mind after that re-view.”
“This question was inspired by a piece I wrote, so I’ll stick with the movie I was discussing at the time: ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.’ The reasons why are all in that piece.”
September 24: What is the best time travel movie ever made?
“I know there are more ‘accurate’ depictions of time travel — an argument I’ve always found slightly ridiculous since time travel doesn’t exist — but has there ever been one that’s more funny, more romantic, more insightful into human nature than ‘Back to the Future?’ Has any time travel movie better used its gimmick to tell a story about the passage of time in a natural and inevitable sense and not just through the use of a magical doohickey? I say no.”
“In my mind, Criterion’s backed the wrong Anderson. Wes Anderson’s got five Criterions and Paul Thomas Anderson has zero? That’s just not right. Though some of his films have received solid home releases, they could all benefit from the five-star Criterion treatment — and none more than Anderson’s first film, “Hard Eight,” which is currently out-of-print on DVD and has yet to be released on Blu-ray.”
October 8: What is the best film about filmmaking?
“It might not be the best or most accurate depiction of the ‘filmmaking industry,’ but for sheer quality I’d probably say ‘Blow Out,’ Brian De Palma’s endlessly fascinating, intensely tawdry tale of a exploitation movie sound man who accidentally records a car accident while taping nature sounds one evening. The sound man, played by John Travolta in one of his best performances, slowly realizes the accident was actually a murder, and uses his audio track to try to prove it. Travolta’s character actually creates film from the ground up, turning still photos into a flipbook and then into a 8mm film. Beyond its brilliant deconstruction — or reconstruction, in this case — of the nuts and bolts of cinema, ‘Blow Out’ digs deeply into the way filmmaking becomes an obsession, and not always for the better.”
“Roger Ebert’s advice on this question has never led me astray. He writes: ‘After I got the Sun-Times job I idly asked my optometrist where one should sit. ‘Twice as far back as the screen is wide,’ he ruled. To that advice I made a refinement: I prefer an aisle seat on the outboard side of the aisle. Outboard? Imagine a theater with two side aisles. I want the side of the aisle at a greater distance from the screen, so that I can look diagonally across the aisle, and not have to peer over a taller person in front of me.’ In any movie theater with side aisles, that is exactly where you’ll find me.”
“I’d probably use the opportunity to celebrate one of my favorite directors — Sam Raimi — and a few of his less well-known films. Everybody loves ‘The Evil Dead’ trilogy, so I’d go with a more obscure double feature — something like ‘Darkman‘ and ‘Drag Me to Hell.’ Admittedly, it may not be the most lucrative double feature for the theater — but I’d sure enjoy it.”
“‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ Climate change freaks me out enough already. I don’t need Al Gore to tell me it’s terrifying. I’m already there.”
November 5: What is your favorite James Bond movie?
“‘From Russia With Love.’ Read why here.”
“I’d do over just about everything about ‘John Carter‘ — the vague title, the crummy marketing, the charismatically-challenged cast, the exorbitant budget that became the focus of so much coverage about the film. Scale it down, cut it back, and start it over. Andrew Stanton deserves that much.”
November 19: What is the most underrated Alfred Hitchcock film?
“Before I saw the results of this poll, I probably would have said ‘Frenzy.’ This late career masterpiece sees Hitchcock returning to his roots literally and figuratively, for his first film shot in England in decades and a story that harkens back to his breakthrough silent film, ‘The Lodger.’ But ‘Frenzy’ wound up being the most popular response in this survey — and if something is really popular, can it still be underrated? That’s a question for another survey — and we’ll have a new one next Monday.”